Engaging with the text

Working with a literary text - whether it be a play, novel or poem - requires more than simply reading it and knowing ‘what happens' or what it is ‘about'. If you are to write good essays and be successful in examinations, it is important that you should engage with the text – in this case The White Devil – as deeply as possible.

Reading and working with The White Devil

  • Remember the kind of play that The White Devil represents – that it is a revenge tragedy with a strong element of social criticism. It is particularly concerned with exposing the corruption of court life.
  • Allow yourself time to become accustomed to the language. The play was written about four hundred years ago and linguistic forms have inevitably changed, so don't worry if you read slowly at first
  • Set aside time for reading: identify blocks of time when you can read without interruption
  • Make notes as you read. This is the best way of keeping your reading alert and active. You can record the events in each scene and keep a record of especially important speeches, themes and images
  • Make links with other books, films or TV programmes with similar plots and themes – about social corruption and the views about women

Get to know the text

  • Read The White Devil at least twice. This is essential if you are to develop a well-informed response to the play
  • Follow up advice on reading given by your teacher or in study guides
  • BUT don't rely on plot summaries:
    • They tell you nothing about language and style
    • They don't identify themes and motifs in the text
    • However detailed, they are intended as reminders, not substitutes
  • Read the text in different ways. Once you have a firm grasp of the overall narrative, you may wish to:
    • Re-read a particular section, such as the trial of Vittoria;
    • Concentrate on a theme or motif, such as Machiavellian corruption, or the ways in which imagery of animals is used in the play;
    • Trace the appearances of particular characters such as Lodovico and Cornelia.

Know the complete text

This requires a separate section because examiners often report that students know the beginning of a play very well, but are less familiar with the later parts of the text. Classroom study often emphasises the beginning of a book or play, where the author introduces characters, themes and imagery, and is then less detailed about the remainder of the text. So:

  • Do not ignore the impact of significant scenes in the later part of The White Devil
  • Remember that themes, motifs and images may be developed and modified as the play goes on
  • Remember that characters change and develop and that the reader's / spectator's attitude towards them may also change.

Keep a record of your reading

  • Make notes under headings, with page references to particularly useful passages
  • For major topics, you may find it helpful to have separate pages or index cards: one for each character, say, or for a particular theme or image:
    • However, don't let your notes become too separate and take care to comment on links and relationships;
    • Use specimen essay questions to give you ideas for headings for your notes.

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